Women can reduce the number of pounds they regain after finishing a diet by learning weight control skills before they start, a new study has found.
The findings could offer a way to halt the cycle of so-called yo-yo dieting, researchers at the Stanford University Medical Centre in California said.
The study showed that women who spent almost two months preparing for their diet regained only three pounds on average a year later, compared to a seven-pound gain for those who began their weight loss schemes immediately.
Lead author Michaela Kiernan said: "Those eight weeks were like a practice run.
"Women could try out different stability skills and work out the kinks without the pressure of worrying about how much weight they had lost.
"We found that waiting those eight weeks didn't make the women any less successful at losing weight. But even better, women who practised stability first were more successful in maintaining that loss after a year."
The study, which involved 267 overweight women, will be published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Among the stability skills taught were searching out low-fat or low-calorie foods that taste good, avoiding feelings of deprivation and strategically losing a few pounds ahead of an event where you are likely to gain weight, such as a holiday.
"Losing a significant amount of weight requires a lot of focused attention to what you're doing, and most people can't keep up that intensity over the long term," Dr Kiernan said. "For weight maintenance, we wanted something that would make the day-to-day experience positive while not requiring overwhelming amounts of effort."